Charters & Choice

Over on the Ohio Gadfly Daily, Fordham’s Jeff Murray has a meditation on what it’s like to lose the school-choice lottery. And it vividly reminds us that despite a flourishing school-choice movement, many families still struggle to access the one school they want for their children—even a public school.

Jeff and his wife have been reaching into their “middle-income pockets” to send their daughters to a “middle-of-the-road” private school because their public school options have been substandard. Until recently. An impressive STEM high school planned to expand to middle grades, and it was just what the Murray family wanted.

So it was for hundreds of others. And so a lottery would pick the lucky few from the many who longed for what Jeff called the Holy Grail, the best possible educational foundation for their kids. “We know we’d found it,” he writes. “And we can’t get in.”

Jeff has left us a lot to ponder, and not just because he has left us a powerful, personal reflection. What happens, he asks, when you don’t have the means or the knowledge of the system? What happens when all your choices are bad?

What happens, indeed?...

Wayward Sons, a recent report published by the policy think tank the Third Way, finds that the average girl’s educational and career outcomes have improved over time, while boys tend to be faring worse. This widening “gender gap,” the report contends, suggests “reason for concern” and “bodes ill for the well-being of recent cohorts of U.S. males.”

Explaining why boys are struggling now more than in past decades is, of course, extremely complex. One line of inquiry might consider the changing schooling experiences of boys and girls: Could it be that boys are becoming increasingly harder to educate? Might schools tailor education in ways unsuitable for boys’ needs? Or is it a mix of both?

Fair questions—and using Ohio’s special education data, I look at whether there’s any evidence that (a) boys might be harder to educate than girls and (b) whether schools might respond to difficult-to-educate boys by referring them into special education.

The Ohio data is nothing short of remarkable: There are considerably more boys identified as disabled than girls. (The referral and identification process is a joint effort between the parent and the school.) Statewide, 166,690 boys (65 percent) and 88,539 girls (35 percent)...

Yesterday, I spent all day hitting the Refresh button on my email account. Probably 653 times. Why? Because the one school that we wanted for our children for next year was to announce its lottery results to those lucky few who would be chosen. 12 or 13 slots for sixth grade, out of an application pool of several hundred (wish I knew exactly how many).

On click number 653 we got the news at last: Our numbers didn’t hit.


My parents practiced school choice the old-fashioned way in the late 1970’s – they moved from the east side of Columbus to the boonies. This was their only option. With a one-income family and four children, private school was not in the cards. My father drove 30 miles one way to work (even farther later in his career) with no complaints.

Why not stay in Columbus City Schools? Desegregation. I’m not proud of this fact and the mindset that it evokes, but they were not the only ones in our neighborhood – let alone the city – who did not want their children bussed across town for a school they felt inferior to the one they had. In fact, we...

Last week, Fordham’s Ohio team gathered with school leaders and ed reform stakeholders - including legislators and members of the State Board of Education - to discuss the findings of our latest report, Half Empty or Half Full? Superintendents’ Views on Ohio’s Education Reforms

While we provided a recap of the event Friday, I’m happy to share a full-length video of the event! If you missed it, or attended and would like to view or share with others, check out the video here.

We feel the survey and its findings provide an important window into how the reforms we champion play out on the ground in districts across Ohio. The insights of our panelists and audience members are interesting and enlightening. Watch the video and tell us what you think.

Share your comments about the survey and event below. We look forward to seeing you at future Fordham events!


How satisfied should education reformers and charter enthusiasts be when studies show charter students outperforming those in the local district schools? Sure, it’s a lot better than underperforming, and yes, it’s a fine thing for the girls and boys who benefit from this value-add (as well as from the safety, variety, intimacy, family engagement, and other pluses that typically accompany charter school attendance). But observe what a low achievement bar this kind of comparison generally sets. The “virtual-twin” district school that is generally the basis for comparison is usually a miserable excuse for an educational institution, and the kids who shifted into the charter school had ample reason to want out. Their parents had ample reason to want better opportunities for their children. But is “better than” good enough at a time when college and career readiness is the goal of the larger K–12 enterprise and when preparation for international competitiveness is the country’s education target? Would you be satisfied with your golf score if it were a few points lower than someone who shoots 100? Would you be satisfied with your weight loss if you were now at 300 pounds compared with the other guy’s 320? Would...

The Justice Department has taken school-voucher policy to unstable ground. Last month, three agency attorneys sent a letter to Wisconsin officials declaring that the Badger State hasn’t done enough to protect the rights of students with disabilities who participate in voucher programs in Milwaukee and Racine. But the prescription contained within that letter would effectively entangle religious schools in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), from which they have largely been exempted.

The trouble started two years ago, when the American Civil Liberties Union and Disability Rights Wisconsin complained to the Justice Department that private schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program were violating the ADA. They argued that the schools were failing to accommodate disabled students, discouraging some from attending and improperly expelling others. (NB: These groups did not make these claims under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (i.e., special education); private schools are clearly exempt from its requirements.)

The Justice Department didn’t determine whether Milwaukee’s private schools had violated the ADA, but its civil-rights attorneys did tell the Wisconsin schools superintendent, Tony Evers, that he “must do more to enforce the federal statutory and regulatory requirements that govern the treatment of students with...

It’s hard not to sympathize with the impulse behind the parent trigger. Here’s a mechanism that empowers disadvantaged parents to force speedy and transformative change on schools long considered dysfunctional. It upends the stasis that pervades so many urban districts: the veto power that teachers unions and other adult interests hold over all decisions; the culture of low expectations that blames social factors (and the parents themselves) for poor student achievement; the slow pace of reform that subjects yet another generation of students to failure while the system struggles to get its act together.

The parent trigger may end up falling flat
It's hard not to sympathize with the parent trigger, but it may end up falling flat.

For these reasons and more, it’s worth experimenting with the parent trigger. But I strongly suspect that the experiment will fall flat, at least most of the time and at least when it comes to turning around failing schools and/or forcing significant reform on the part of failing school districts. Three factors come...

Mike is usually the “glass-half-full” guy around Fordham, while I'm Gloomy Gus. On the matter of parent triggers, however, our roles seem to have reversed. He doesn't think the parent-trigger mechanism will amount to much—and comes mighty close to suggesting that we might as well therefore give up on it. He puts his faith instead in what he calls “school choice,” by which he means more charters, more vouchers, more digital options, etc.

Why so bleak about parent triggers?
My parent-trigger glass isn't more than half full, but Mike should return to the spigot
Photo by Worapol Sittiphaet

Of course we should have more of all of those—provided they're accompanied by suitable quality control and customer-information strategies. But why so bleak about parent triggers? Well, Mike explains, they'll get tangled up in lawsuits—but so does every single one of his preferred options; just this month, for example, the Louisiana supreme court struck down the Bayou State's new voucher program. Charters get litigated everywhere. So do virtual schools.

Then he says the parent trigger is really a school-turnaround...

GadflyWhen a Michigan House committee approved a measure that would allow students to skip Algebra 2 if they instead take a technical-education course, the Wolverine State became the latest to question the necessity of that much-debated high school course. Last month, Florida created two paths to a high school diploma, one of which excludes Algebra 2 altogether. The arguments in favor of such moves are persuasive—but what will this mean for Common Core, which requires all students to meet math objectives that include the substance of Algebra 2? This is certainly a matter to watch.

The UFT hosted a veritable panderpalooza last weekend, featuring five Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City taking turns praising the union and blasting charter schools in a shameless effort to win the union’s support. Dennis Walcott, the city’s schools chancellor, announced that he was “appalled” at their remarks. Still, while Gadfly finds such events distasteful, he cannot claim to be surprised when New York politicians resume their traditional habits.

Two excellent Wall...

Relinquishment is based on three principles: (1) educators should operate schools, (2) families should choose amongst these schools, and (3) government should hold schools accountable for performance and equity.

Outside of these three principles, I hold few ironclad beliefs on education. Yet in conversation, I find that others attribute principles to Relinquishment that I don’t hold. This probably stems from a lack of clear communication on my part, so let me provide additional clarity:

Relinquishment is not anti-union

Relinquishment is a reaction against management, not labor. Admittedly, I disagree with certain policies put forth by unions and their members, but individuals should possess the right to collectively bargain with their employers. Relinquishment only posits that the government should not be a party to the bargain; rather, the bargaining parties should be union and school operator. From here, results will dictate the future of unions. If unionized schools thrive, unions themselves will also thrive. I do understand that, from an organizing standpoint, unionizing decentralized charter schools will be more difficult than signing a singular collective bargaining contract with the district—but I do not believe this issue should trump the more salient issue of academic performance.

Relinquishment assumes equity in access is...